Ultimate Strength Is Measured In Adaptability

Ultimate Strength transcends any one label, it is adaptable.

How do you define strength?

I like the definition I wrote for thebeardreport.’s homepage: The physical and mental ability to resist opposition, withstand attack, and push forward; because it begins to describe different sides of strength. By this definition, strength is not only physical but also mental. It does not only work to oppose incoming forces but also to push forward toward what’s next.

There are three pillars of strength (physical, mental, and emotional). When I think of strength, three visualizations come into focus:

  1. I see myself at the bottom of a heavy squat; face red, veins popping, and straining every muscle in my body to overcome the resistance from the weight. This is my representation of physical strength.
  2. I see myself making tough decisions that help me to stay on my path and achieve rather than falling victim to less beneficial influences. This is my representation of mental strength.
  3. I see myself as a calm person in a room full of panic; evaluating the facts, assessing, and deciding the best path forward. This is my representation of emotional strength. 

Beyond these three pillars strength breaks down further. Strength can be defined as rigid or flexible, and seen through the lens of specificity or generality. 

You may think of rigid strength as something that is over-designed. Rigid strength accomplishes its tasks through brute force or mass alone. There is little nuance to rigid strength; it does not flex. What you see is what you get. Think about a time where your friends wanted to pull you out to a bar and there was no amount of convincing they could have done that resulted in you going. This is rigidity. No flex to be found here.

Flexible strength will ebb and flow with the dynamics of its environment. If rigid strength is strength by excess, you can think of flexible strength as being optimized for its environment. Think about trying to get work done while staying at your in-laws house. You will need to be flexible in when you work, where you work, and what type of distractions there may be. Rigidity will not work here, you must be flexible to accommodate the situation.

Specific strength can be seen similar to a machine: designed and optimized to perform a defined set of tasks. Specific strength excels within a defined set of parameters and is weaker in all ways outside of those parameters. Think of specific strength as involving a skill. Developing a skill introduces specificity to what is otherwise general strength.

General strength may be thought of along the lines of the old adage “jack of all trades, master of none” in which this strength can be applied to a number of circumstances as it is less specific. Think about moving heavy objects around your yard. You may need to push, lift, or pull depending on what needs to be moved. To complete these tasks you need to have general strength that can be applied in a number of ways.

Now think of yourself.

You are human. You grow. You change. You learn. 

You adapt to many circumstances throughout life. 

When considering all of the roles you fill as a person, it stands to reason that you need to be adaptable. You need to be able to apply the strength you gain in one area to other areas of your life if there is any hope of efficiency. Ultimate strength; therefore, is adaptable; it transcends specific definition. Strength is an idea, a feeling, a characteristic, and an attribute.

How do you gain adaptability?

Adaptability is gained with depth; and within depth there are three categories:

  1. Depth in understanding
  2. Depth in building
  3. Depth in application

This is where this article gets fun for me. 

For purposes of discussion, let’s start with one of my favorite lifts – the squat. As a competitive powerlifter, the squat is a big deal. It is the first lift contested at a powerlifting meet and is all about commitment. Squatting a big weight requires you to be ok with putting your entire body under weights heavy enough to crush you. It requires focus, self-belief, and, maybe, a screw or two loose. But I digress.

Here’s the thing, though. I am not just a powerlifter – I do many other things. I have other hobbies that I like to do outside of the weightroom. I do not exist only to squat. I would like for the strength I build to be able to benefit me in other ways. In order to do this, I need adaptability. I develop that adaptability through understanding depth. Check it out:

1. Depth in understanding

The first part of building and developing squat strength is to understand what it takes to build a strong squat. The squat is a total body movement; you need a strong back, strong legs, and strong abs to support the weight. You need to understand the biomechanics of a squat to move your body efficiently. You need to understand how your body reacts to training loads. A big squat doesn’t happen overnight – you need to understand how to train the movement over a long period of time. 

2. Depth in building

Once you have the understanding, you need to execute. You need to not only accumulate squat repetitions to build the squat but you also need to perform different accessory movements to build up different areas of your body. You may need to drill different movements to gain needed flexibility or teach your body how to use different muscles. Having a depth of training techniques at your disposal will help you build more strength faster by being able to identify and strengthen specific weaknesses.

If I stopped here, I would have everything I needed to build a strong squat. This would be a form of specific strength. Knowing nothing outside what I described above would make me very good at performing a squat, and with enough time under the bar, I would be a very proficient squatter. As I said earlier, though, I am a person that does more than squat. I want my training to perform in other ways that better my life as a whole. 

With that, we move on to the third aspect of depth. 

3. Depth in application

Understanding and executing different applications for strength built in the first two steps is what allows me to be adaptable. 

In a physical sense, it is easy to see how a strong squat helps me in day-to-day life. Strong legs and a strong back help me when I go to move heavy boxes, I can pick up someone who has fallen over, I can support my motorcycle when I come to a red light, and being physically fit helps me to look good out by the pool (we all have a little vanity within us).

These different physical applications speak to the adaptability of strength built through training my squat. No longer am I turning into a machine that squats weight and squats weight only. All of a sudden, I understand how my training allows me to improve all these other parts of my life. I build a more capable human ready to tackle a range of roles and responsibilities that are required to live the life I want to live by being able to transfer skills and abilities from the weightroom to these other areas of my life.

As far as depth goes, this is still shallow. 

As someone who has spent an unknown number of hours under the barbell, I have gained far more from the iron than a strong body. While I was working at building my lifts and appreciating all of the physical things that have been improved through strengthening my body, I have been building my mind as well. 

It takes discipline to show up every day and put in the reps. It takes an ever-increasing drive to maintain high intensity through long workouts and training blocks. It takes self-reliance and confidence to approach weights that scare you while having the confidence that you will be the victor in this battle of man vs. steel. 

You don’t lose this mental edge when you leave the gym if you understand what you are building and how to apply it. When you understand that you are developing discipline each time you walk into the weight room, you can then take that discipline and apply it out in your world to your work life and your home life. 

The gains don’t stop at discipline and mental fortitude. When you push your body to do anything new you will sometimes fail. If you are pushing yourself hard in the gym, you will miss lifts. There will be training blocks that don’t result in personal best lifts. You can choose to be defeated by these situations and let your emotions best you when you aren’t performing; or, of course, you can let the iron teach you that this is all part of the process and that you will not always win in the short term. You can choose to remain objective and level headed and, ultimately, persevere. Emotional strength is flexed along with everything else in these situations and again, can be taken to all other areas of your life when you understand the depth of what you are doing.

This is Depth

Something as straightforward as squatting can develop skills that tie into the most core characteristics of an initiated individual. From that core, these skills are expressed in many ways across many disciplines of life. Again, this is only available to those that can recognize and build this type of depth. 

And this discussion is centered around only one activity – working out. When you understand depth in its three disciplines, this can be taken to any activity you do.


When you see the larger picture and understand depth in this way, you are able to take the strength you build in one discipline and apply it across all other areas of your life. This is adaptability and it is what makes a person ultimately strong. 

A big squat is strong, having a high IQ is strong, being able to navigate big emotions is strong, but none of this means anything if these skills don’t adapt.

If one of the pillars of strength should fall…

If one of the pillars of strength (physical, mental, emotional) should fall you begin to see how this affects depth, and therefore, adaptability. You become a commodity when you cannot adapt. You become more like a machine than a human; able to perform well in some areas, but not adaptable to all areas. Humans have many roles and enter into many different scenarios throughout their days, weeks, years, and lives. You need strength to succeed. To have ultimate strength, you need to adapt. 

When you understand depth both as a concept and as part of what you do, you no longer think in silos. Your knowledge and abilities begin to flow together and support each other. They begin to build Integrity. The whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. 

This is strength. This is adaptability. This is why you need depth.

Yours in strength, 

-Chris

There is a lot going on at thebeardreport. these days.

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You Need Competition

“If you’re a true warrior, competition doesn’t scare you. It makes you better.” – Andrew Whitworth

Competition is a challenge to overcome or can serve as the friction needed to drive growth. Whether you compete against yourself, against the clock, or against an opponent, you need competition to keep yourself and your skills tight.

Think about the last time you competed. I mean really competed – a time when you had skin in the game and the stakes were high enough that the results mattered. I bet the version of yourself leading up to that day was focused. I bet you practiced your craft and honed your skills. This is what competition brings out of competitors.

There is a lot learned from competition. Competitors learn to develop discipline through showing up and training. They learn how to plan and prepare so that they continue to grow and improve over time. They learn how to win and how to lose. 

In winning they learn to practice modesty and in losing they learn to practice respect. A good winner knows that on any given day the results could have been reversed and a good loser knows that while he may have been bested today, there’s always next time. So starts the next training block to come back stronger. 

When I was younger, there was competition all around me. There was obvious competition in sports but I also played games at recess, in PE class, and around the neighborhood. Less obvious was the social competition everyone engages in – wanting to be popular, have friends, be cool. Most everyone can relate, I’m sure.

The stakes felt high at the time. I know I was invested in doing my best to win every sports match I played in, recess and PE would sometimes result in arguments over the rules because that last questionable play resulted in the winning run for the other team. I cared about whether the other kids thought I was cool or not. Competition was fierce and I did not want to lose.

So, then, where is the friction to keep growing? What is driving these people to keep training, learning, studying, and working on their skills to become better? 

When I zoom out and look at society on a macro scale, it appears that many people lose their sense of competition as they grow. At some point, a person must lead themselves to remain competitive; to seek out opportunities to compete and push themselves to train. I don’t see this in the world. Instead, I see people trade in the hard work and training for comfort as they settle into relationships, careers, and whatever else the general population chooses to do with their time.

A lot is lost when there is no competition.

When there is little to no threat of losing, there is little to no competitive edge driving action to get better. That deep well of drive that used to propel the competitor within dries up. 

Competition brings virility. Training hard, putting in work, and building something to bring to the competition is exhilarating, tangible, and real.The energy of competition cannot be substituted by anything else.

Withdrawing from competition softens the edge a competitor once had as the flame of competition slowly decays. The primal feelings associated with having a goal, working, visualizing the win, and making that a reality were felt deep and are not easily replaced.

What qualifies as competition?

As I got older, I was fortunate to have a competitive drive still in me. I began lifting weights in college. What started out as a competition to gain strength and muscle graduated to competitive powerlifting. 

I competed in a handful of powerlifting meets over the years and trained with a small group of driven guys that would push me to do better, lift more, and train harder. Without that competitive spirit keeping us all showing up and working hard for that feeling of fulfilment and purpose, I would not have lifted the weights I have lifted.

You don’t need to compete in weightlifting or competitive sports to compete, though. Competition is everywhere. Here is what qualifies as competition:

1. The stakes need to be high enough to matter. 

The local beer league slow pitch softball team does not count – the stakes there are not high enough to make it matter. Consider this leisure; a time to mess around with your buddies. 

You need more skin in the game. Real competition requires you to put your pride on the line and having to take a hit to your ego if you lose. You need to be invested in the results. If you’re not invested in training, learning, and winning, you’re not competing; you’re participating in recreation. 

2. Competition takes place on a stage. 

No, not a physical stage necessarily, but you need to face your opponent in a competitive arena. This stage can be in the business world, on a field, or in a gym, any location where some number of competitors enter, and fewer exit victorious.

3. There needs to be a winner.

If there is no winner, there is no competition.

Now, this leads me to an aside – if there must be a winner, there must also be a loser, right? Most of the time, yes, for one side to win another side must lose. Undermining the benefit of healthy competition by removing the threat of losing does nothing but cheapen competition and all of the great things that come from it. 

With that said, there are situations in which there can be multiple winners. This is often seen in business. Business is a unique situation because the biggest competition is not always between competing businesses but rather between a business and the challenges that they face. In these instances, successful businesses win and the challenges themselves are the losers.

Still Not Buying It? Consider This

Consider how popular this phrase has become in society’s vocabulary: 

“I need someone to hold me accountable.”

Accountability is not the answer to the deeper issue at play. People look for external accountability when they lack the discipline needed to generate drive. There are few things that provide more drive than the spirit of competition, the threat of losing, or the feeling of winning. 

Choose to step onto the competitive field, put something you love on the line, and see how little accountability you need from someone else to work for that win.

But… But Losing Doesn’t Feel Good For The Losers

This perspective is more damaging than losing in competition ever was. The split between a winner and a loser is healthy; it gives the winner the satisfaction deserved from putting in the hard work and gives the loser the satisfaction of putting forth his own best efforts after working hard himself. Losing is not damaging and it should not be viewed this way. Losing is an opportunity to reflect, refine, and work harder to come out of the next bout victorious. 

There will be those that have already closed this article because they feel competition is evil and there are those others that will have made it this far while still disagreeing with what I am saying. These people may be of the camp that believe “competition brings out the worst of people”. 

To these people I say “competition brings out the worst of poor competitors”. Competition is honorable and honorable competitors respect the integrity of competition and their fellow competitors. Competition exists to be won based on the merits of the competitors’ performance. Playing dirty is a characteristic of a poor competitor. Competition is not harmful to people, it is a select group of people that are harmful to competition.

Competition should be embraced. Everything that we have and enjoy today is a result of competition in one way or another.

If you want one way to improve your current mood, work ethic, and overall situation…

… go compete.

Yours in strength,

-Chris

There is a lot going on at thebeardreport. these days.

Check out the Newsletter or The Initiated Lifestyle Podcast for more of this content.

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